Two things I should clear up fast. Things suck in Houston right now. Dallas is nowhere near Houston. Ohio is closer to Washington DC then I am to the catastrophic floods. So I appreciate the concern from far away friends but thanks to geography, all is well where I am. In Houston, not so much.
The first time I went to Houston was for a consulting job back when I was in my 20s. After crashing at a friend’s place in Tallahassee for the night, I drove the last 10 hours for my first visit to the State of Texas. It was exciting uncharted territory for me officially being the farthest west I had ever been.
After a three month stay, I made the mind-numbing drive west across the rest of the state and onward to the coast. But I will save for another day that trip’s tales of a 3:00am New Mexico truck-stop inhabited by pig faced mutants from the Beauty Is In The Eye Of The Beholder Twilight Zone episode, questionable mushrooms in the mountains south of Tucson and spending three days in the L.A. valley with my oldest friend, newest friend and Elvis Presley’s supposed illegitimate daughter before the thick grey smog cleared enough for me to realize that there were actually visible mountains nearby. Today though, with everything going on, my head is still in Houston.
I was a bit lonely and overwhelmed when I arrived but sometimes the best adventures start out that way. I was not really sure of the details and distances of where I needed to be so I arbitrarily checked into a safe looking well-let hotel near Hobby airport. My logic being that every neighborhood would have somewhat direct access to the airport. In the decades since many roads have been built but at the time, my theory proved to be wrong.
My memories are muddled at this point and I was hoping that multiple meanders down roads on Google Maps would help me recall the exact street or hotel I stayed at those first three days but I have had no luck. What I do recall with crystal clarity is that when the sun went down that first night, the bugs came out. Millions of them. Biblical plague levels of them. They covered the parking lot like a moving carpet of chirping buzzing pests that also bounced off my room’s glass window creating an all-night tap tata tap tap.
I am not a fan of bugs. I have a lot of unpleasant allergies to insect bites and a few nibbles from the wrong ones can make me pretty miserable for weeks. So, no matter what the variety, species or type, I am always on edge when I sense a near-by buzzing. For self-preservation purposes if bugs are out, I am in. I am sure I looked like a brain-damaged spastic Olympic sprinter flailing my arms as I ran from the car to the hotel each night in my moist from the intense heat and humidity half-disrobed business suit.
Texas and its nightly bug invasion were a bit of a culture shock for me. It mentally transported back to Phis Ed class after I first moved to Florida in 9th grade. Where I grew up in Queens New York, gym class was mostly inside where the weather was more consistent, fights were easier to break up, it was harder to slip out to skip the rest of day and there was less taunting from the kids across the street that had already skipped out of classes. Although City insects are tough (picture a muscle-bound mosquito with bad prison tattoos of Dracula yelling in a Brooklynese accent “I’m bitin’ ya here”), they were few and far between.
In Miami, gym class usually was outside. I recall my shock and disgust standing there in the miserable tropical heat my first few days, while thousands of slow floating love bugs and biting mosquitoes swarming around the marshy moist grassy schoolyard making me jump swat and scratch like a twitchy palsied monkey doing a 1960’s teen-craze dance.
Back in Houston, I quickly learned it was the bright lights and large cement parking lot that attracted the seasonal swampy insect swarms. When I relocated a few days later to a more permanent place on the south-side of town near work, I picked an apartment on the second floor with a dark small tree lined parking lot.
My head was not in a good place my first few weeks there. I worked during the day but stayed home most nights parked in front of the TV assembling a zillion piece jigsaw puzzle on my cheesy rented furniture coffee table. Then one night I ventured out to a recommended hole in the wall Tex-Mex place in a little double wide mobile home off the side of the two-lane highway between Pearland and Friendswood. Next a wacky trip to see Howard The Duck in what was obviously an old grocery store poorly converted into a multi-plex movie theater with unpainted, uneven drywall room dividers and folding chairs.
Soon after I started having many adventures in Houston and the people I met were very down to Earth, straight shooters that, even though I obviously was not from the area, treated me well. I eventually started dating an ex-cop that never seemed to run out of shocking neighborhood stories. One night I spent a couple of hours hanging out drinking on the front steps of a small club with the band the Butthole Surfers waiting for a Sandra Bernhard show to begin. Another time I befriended a couple of women that offered me shots from their thermos of tequila at an outdoor Jimmy Buffet concert at Astroland. Then after the show they invited me to join them for a late-night recovery meal but first I helped them with their obviously well practiced routine of picking up blankets people left behind, on the sprawling field then depositing the huge pile at a nearby Salvation Army drop box.
I’ve been to Houston many times since and I feel bad for what the folks down there are going through. Having dealt with Hurricane Andrew in Miami, I know once the torrential downpour ends and dramatic rescues cease, the mess will soon pass quickly out of the fickle media’s eye but that is only the tiny beginning of the arduous years of rebuilding to come. Like my early days in Houston sitting overwhelmed and lost at that coffee table, the kind folks down there will now have to sort out the jumbled jigsaw pieces of their lives.
I don’t have any great solution or words of solace that would offer any real comfort but might I point out lately there has been a lot of division between people. Lets use this as a reminder that we are all in this together. Please help the folks there any way you can.